I. Overview



The US owes much of its present prosperity to the efficiency of its transportation system. The flexibility and low cost of personal transportation in the US is closely associated with most Americans' sense of personal freedom. But the system faces unprecedented demands for renewal. A fast-paced information-intensive economy is changing the places people want and need to travel and new production and management methods are radically reshaping the shipping needs of businesses. At the same time, the Nation's transportation system is expected to meet unprecedented standards for reliability, cost, timeliness, safety, and environmental impacts. Meeting these expectations, ensuring the vitality of a key part of national infrastructure, and enhancing the competitiveness of an enterprise that contributes directly or indirectly to the employment of nearly a fifth of American workers necessitates a vigorous research and development effort in which Federal R&D investment, coordination and stimulation plays a critical role.

The US transportation system includes 190.4 million automobiles, vans, and trucks operating on 3.9 million miles of streets and highways; 103,000 transit vehicles operating on those streets, as well as more than 7,000 miles of subways, street car lines, and commuter railroads; 275,000 airplanes operating in and out of 17,500 airports and landing fields; 18,000 locomotives and 1.2 million cars operating over 113,000 miles of railroads; 20 million recreational boats; 31,000 barges, and over 8,000 US ships, tugs, and other commercial vessels operating on 26,000 miles of waterways, the Great Lakes, and the oceans; and 1.5 million miles of intercity pipelines.

Transportation Statistics Annual Report 1994, US DOT

National Investment in Transportation

Transportation investment and annual expenditures represent a significant element of our overall national assets and expenditures. American households, businesses, and governments spend over $1 trillion to travel 3.8 trillion miles and to ship goods 3.5 trillion miles each year. The net depreciated value of personal motor vehicles alone is $900 billion, and the value of roads and highways is estimated at over $700 billion. When adjusted to formal definitions of the National Income Product Accounts, transportation accounts for 12 percent of Gross Domestic Product. The chart below summarizes the value of current transportation investment, amounts spent on transportation, and transportation-related employment in recent years.

Federal Investment in Transportation Research and Development

The Federal government has played a major role in supporting innovative transportation technologies in partnership with industry for several reasons, the main one being that the government owns and is responsible for a major part of the infrastructure. The positive impacts of technological innovations in the transportation system can only be measured over a period of several decades. The risks of research investments, therefore, can be very high and returns on investment so distant that they do not justify private sector support. This market constraint is exacerbated by the large number and diversity of customers that characterize some modes. Since the public benefits of long-term research often can not be fully captured by private investors under these circumstances, Federal research partnerships are essential for ensuring a continuous flow of innovation.

The Federal government also has a unique responsibility for protecting the public's interest in areas like infrastructure renewal, environmental quality, passenger safety, worker safety, and reduction of congestion. The objectives of both business and government can be achieved through well designed research programs which optimize and leverage the use of both Federal and private sector resources. Often the kinds of long-term research needed to achieve major gains in vehicle efficiency, emissions, or safety are precisely the kinds of research needed by companies to protect their competitive position in domestic and international markets.

Research on aircraft, ships, land vehicles, and other transportation technologies are, of course, also critical for national security. Many defense technology needs can, however, be achieved at much lower cost when defense research is managed in a way that encourages research investment by private firms that can use new technology for both defense and civilian markets. DOD can no longer afford to support research to sustain firms specializing only in defense markets. Enormous savings can be achieved if defense products can be purchased from healthy and vigorous commercial businesses.

Vision and Goals

The National Science and Technology Council's (NSTC) Interagency Coordinating Committee on Transportation Research and Development is charged with ensuring that Federal investment in transportation research conducted by all agencies is (1) coordinated to ensure efficient use of Federal funds aimed at this mission, (2) focused on projects identified users, industry and other stakeholders as being the most critical to achieving success in the agencies' missions, and (3) limited to areas where it is clear that major public benefits can only be achieved through cost-shared Federal research. The Committee is composed of representatives from the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, and Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Investing in technology is investing in America's future: a growing economy with more high-skill, high wage jobs for American workers; a cleaner environment where efficiency increases profits and reduces pollution; a stronger, more competitive private sector able to maintain US leadership in critical world markets; an educational system where every student is challenged; and an inspired scientific and technological research community focused on ensuring not just our national security but our very quality of life.
--Technology for America's Economic Growth, A New Direction to Build Economic Strength

The Committee's vision is of a sustainable and seamless intermodal transportation system that effectively ties America together and links it to the world. This system will help citizens and businesses satisfy their needs by providing efficient, safe, secure, and environmentally friendly transportation of people and goods. It will result from a strengthened partnership between government and the private sector focused on effective management and renewal of existing infrastructure, strategic deployment of new technologies and infrastructure, and on R&D which supports each of these.

The building blocks for achieving this vision are a sound physical infrastructure; a broad array of technological, design, and behavioral alternatives that provide an overlay of operational information to enable the most effective use of the physical infrastructure; and comprehensive knowledge of the system and its operations. Realizing this vision will require achievement of the following goals:

Guiding Principles

The vision and goals were crafted around the following guiding principles:

No matter how well designed, Federal research investment is only one element of a national strategy aimed at ensuring the continued safety and efficiency of the Nation's transportation system. The Federal transportation R&D program must also include:

The NSTC Transportation R&D Committee's function is to support a balanced national program in these areas.

R&D Priorities and Objectives

The Committee identified R&D needs and priorities by considering transportation systems in terms of four broad categories. The first three categories include the visible elements of our transportation system: the Physical Infrastructure (roads and bridges, railways, ports and waterways, airports, and launch facilities), the Information Infrastructure (the sensors, computers, and communications facilities that provide for traffic control and management), and Next-Generation Transportation Vehicles (cars, trucks, buses, trains, ships, and aircraft). The fourth category captures the overall systems-level considerations of Transportation System Design, Planning, Management, and Operations (assessment of the interactions and relationships among the three physical elements as well as the performance capabilities and limitations of the people who operate and use the system).

The rate of advance in each of these areas is constrained by many non- technological factors, but R&D can have a major and often critical impact. Since provision of transportation services and equipment is largely a private- sector activity, industry will generally have an important or even dominant R&D role. However, in many situations Federal participation is critical in identifying needs and goals, establishing a knowledge base or concept feasibility, demonstrating and evaluating performance and impacts, and transferring technology to users. Committee subcommittees and working groups have developed the following objectives for coordinated public and private R&D;in each of the categories indicated above:

Measures Applied in Assessing Priorities

The measures used in identifying priority R&D topics are the key national goals derived from the vision stated above. Priorities also depend upon the potential impact of the research on each measure. Specifically, impact in the areas listed below guided the Committee's efforts. Development of more- specific and quantitative metrics in each area will be a focus of Committee activities in 1995.

Policy Context

The purpose of this report is to highlight ongoing Federal research efforts in this science and technology (S&T) field and to identify new and promising areas where there might be gaps in Federal support. The report is intended for internal planning purposes within the Federal agencies and as a mechanism to convey to the S&T community the types of research and research priorities being sponsored and considered by the Federal agencies. The Administration is committed to a broad range of high priority investments (including science and technology), as well as to deficit reduction, and to a smaller, more efficient Federal government. These commitments have created a very challenging budget environment--requiring difficult decisions and a well thought-out strategy to ensure the best return for the nation's taxpayer. As part of this strategy, this document does not represent the final determinant in an overall Administration budget decision making process. The research programs presented in this report will have to compete for resources against many other high priority federal programs. If these programs compete successfully, they will be reflected in future Administration budgets.

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